Is Working for Free the Best Way to Start Your Business?

working for free stairs to nowhere

The idea of doing projects “on spec” (without pay) came up in one of the few Facebook groups I participate in.

To be more specific, a woman launching a new service business was offering to work for free in order to get testimonials and build her portfolio.

Is this a good way to start your business? Or is spec work a flight of stairs leading nowhere?

In business (almost) nothing is true across the board. What works for one entrepreneur may flop badly for another. In this Facebook conversation, I felt qualified to chime in and express my opinion, based on my extensive, often painful experience in a field closely related to the one being offered for free. Here is a slighly modified version of my comments:

I’m going to do something relatively harsh here…by recommending you seriously limit this offer (to work for free).

Having testimonials is great, but absolutely not necessary to launch your business. In a way, you’re postponing the launch of your business by clinging to the idea that you need “proof” of the value of your services.

Your time is extremely valuable. Especially since you have a family who likes having you around and “present.”

In all likelihood, doing content marketing for yourself will advance your business more than doing free work for other people, no matter how good their testimonials will be.

The thing is, there’s a huge need for the service you provide — but most of the people/businesses who need your skills do not fully appreciate that need. They don’t feel pain, so it’s hard to pry money from their hands, especially at a rate you deserve.

You would do well to seek people who already feel that need, that have a bleeding neck problem, to use the words of John Paul Mendocha.

See if you can get testimonials from colleagues and friends who already know you and are familiar with the quality of your work. Build up your portfolio working on your own website and marketing materials.

It’s also well worth your time to connect with people who might already be in touch with your target audience. Maybe you can work out a referral arrangement or a way to bundle your services together. Or subcontract work from other established people in the space you want to occupy (or an adjacent one).

Think graphic designers, etc.

And remember, don’t sell your services, as such. Instead, define the transformation you produce for your clients. How will their lives and businesses be different, better than before they hired you — or anyone else for that matter.

Define what you’ll do for them — and what you won’t. Specialize, if you can.

BTW, I’m not always right. This just advice based on my experience.

— — —

What about you? How do you feel about spec work?

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In Pursuit of Elephants

Focus Business Growth

“The hunter in pursuit of an elephant does not stop to throw stones at birds.” ~ Ugandan proverb

The words rocked me when I read them for the first time. The weight of that truth. The multiple layers of application, personal and professional. The visual texture of the metaphor.

It’s amazing how much wisdom can be found on boxes of tea these days…

The ideas of purpose, focus and the proper use of time become increasingly important to me. There are so many demands on my time, energy and resources, it’s critical to figure out which are elephants and which are birds.

The cool (and simultaneously challenging) thing is, by and large, it’s up to you to decide which is which.

What are YOU pursuing?

One of the major components of the business growth model Michael Zipursky shared during last week’s training was defining who your ideal clients are. (FYI, you can see the replay of the 1-hour training here.)

Again, you get to pick who they are. You also get to decide, to a degree that would astonish many people, HOW you will work with them.

I don’t necessarily mean big-money clients when I say “elephants,” although there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean whatever is meaningful to you. Here’s the catch: most of us never define what’s important to us. We kind of just drift through life. Maybe we pat ourselves on the back when we avail ourselves of opportunities as they pass. But how many of those opportunities are “birds” that happen to land in our paths?

What’s important in your life? In your business? Pursue it like a hungry cheetah chases it’s next meal. Ignore as many insignificant things as possible. They’re wasting huge chunks of your time (aka your life)!  That necessitates that you have to figure out what your purpose is and focus on it.

A Stimulating Conversation with a From-Scratch Millionaire

Quick story.

On Monday, I had the chance to sit down and chat with one of my clients. His life is one of those true rags-to-riches tales. He showed me a YouTube video of his oldest son, who has also become a millionaire, giving a presentation at a major event.

I (strategically) asked what he attributed his son’s success to. He boiled it down to 3 main factors:

  1. Intelligence
  2. Insane work ethic
  3. Fearlessness

Both my client and their son have earned millions of dollars by choosing their elephants, expending massive amounts of energy pursuing them (working smart AND hard) and ignoring the insidious feeling of fear that would tell them to chase something smaller, less dangerous and easier to catch.

Sounds like good advice.

 

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Productivity Hacks – Hanging Out with Carey Green

Productivity Hacks

The early bird catches the worm, as the old proverb says.

Sometimes I think that’s a rather destructive piece of advice.

Earlier this month, I shared a few of my most useful productivity tips with Carey Green. We were talking about my contribution to his new book Entrepreneur Mind Hacks Part 1. The dual volume series is a compilation of tips from some of the brightest entrepreneurial thinkers in the game today (like Seth Godin and Cal Newport), as well as powerful insights from thinkers of the past (like Winston Churchill).

Somehow I sneaked into the roster.

During this interview, Carey and I talk about:

  • why “early to bed and early to rise” isn’t always best
  • one of the many business lessons I extracted from sermons of an itinerant 18th century preacher
  • generosity versus greed in business
  • why humans need to stop treating their brains and bodies like machines during the workweek
  • how two different Schwartzes (Gene and Tony) forever altered the way I set up my schedule — their advice will revolutionize your productivity if you listen and apply
  • step-by-step instructions to discover your unique rhythms
  • how God made you different — and what you need to do to make the most of that fact.

We also got into copywriting and marketing a little bit. I talked about how important persuasive copy is, but there are two things that have far more impact on the punching power of your sales messages. Most decent copywriters are aware of this. That doesn’t mean they’ll talk about it in public.

Carey was a great host. He’s also a top-notch businessman and MAN. The world could use more like him.

Get more details about Entrepreneur Mind Hacks books. Book 1 addresses productivity and creativity. (That’s the one I contributed to.) Book 2 dives into connections and success.

If you’re in business or thinking about going into business, pick em up. You’ll definitely learn something.

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